CHICAGO – In the Windy City, the Titans gave their back-ups a chance to take center stage in the preseason opener.
The team’s back-up quarterbacks – Malik Willis and Will Levis – took turns running the show.
In the end, the Titans lost 23-17 to the Bears here at Soldier Field.
Titans defensive line coach/Assistant Head Coach Terrell Williams served as head coach for the Titans for the contest. Mike Vrabel was on the sideline for the game, but he spent a lot of the game coaching from a distance while letting Williams run the show.
“I know the score didn’t turn out the way that we all wanted,” said Williams, who handled the post-game press conference. “But we were able to go out and execute a lot of situations that we talked about going into this football game. … We have a lot of things we need to clean up – you can’t turn the ball over four times and expect to win the football game.”
Willis started the contest for the Titans, and then Levis entered the game on the team’s second offensive possession.
The quarterbacks got plenty of opportunities, and drives, as the team continued to evaluate its options behind starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
Willis completed 16 of 25 passes for 189 yards with no touchdowns and an interception, and a 70.2 passer rating. Willis also ran for a touchdown. He was sacked four times.
“I definitely felt better,” Willis said when asked how he felt compared to his rookie season. “I was just trying to go out there and execute what was called to the best of my ability. … It definitely feels different than last year – last year was my first time seeing all this stuff, and after a whole year … of understanding what we’re trying to do on offense now. It was awesome to get out there and do some real live stuff.”
Levis finished the game 9 of 14 for 85 yards, with an interception, and a passer rating of 51.2. He was also sacked four times. Levis had a chance to guide the team to a last-minute drive, but he was intercepted with 10 seconds left.
“I think we did a pretty good job operationally,” Levis said. “But at the end I had a chance to win the game, and I have to make a throw to win the game there. It’s a shame it didn’t happen. But we’re going to learn from it, and we’re going to get better.”
It was an impressive opening drive for Willis and the Titans, and Willis showed improvement throughout the contest compared to a year ago.
With Willis working behind the first-team offensive line, the Titans drove the field and scored a touchdown right out of the gate. Willis capped the 12-play, 75-yard drive with a two-yard touchdown run. Earlier, the Titans began the drive with a 30-yard completion from Willis to Chris Moore.
Running back Tajae Spears was also good early, with a number of nifty runs on the team’s first possession.
The defense wasn’t so good early, as the Bears scored on big plays on the first two possession.
A 62-yard touchdown pass from Josh Fields to DJ Moore made it 7-7.
After a quick three-and-out, the Bears scored again, this time on a 56-yard pass from Fields to Khalil Gilbert, and it was 14-7 Chicago.
Then came a flurry of turnovers – two caused by the Titans – and eventually another Tennessee touchdown.
After an interception by defensive back Tre Avery, the Titans had the ball at the Chicago 31-yard line.
From there, Levis drove the Titans to their second touchdown of the day. A 21-yard completion from Levis to receiver Mason Kinsey gave the Titans a first-and-goal at the 10. A one-yard run by Hassan Haskins on fourth-and-goal made it 14-14 early in the second quarter.
The Titans ended the first half on a high note, as Willis guided a two-minute drive that covered 60 yards on nine plays, and it was capped off with a 41-yard field goal by kicker Caleb Shudak at give the Titans a 17-14 lead at the half.
But three field goals by Bears kicker Cairo Santos gave the Bears a 23-17 lead and the Titans weren’t able to score late, as both Willis and Levis couldn’t finish drives.
The Titans made their share of mistakes. Aside from the breakdowns on defense, a Willis pass went off the hands of rookie tight end Josh Whyle for an interception, and later Whyle fumbled the ball after a catch. Willis also lost a fumble on a strip sack, and then came the late Levis INT. Kicker Trey Wolff misfired on a field goal early in the fourth quarter.
Titans quarterbacks were sacked eight times in the contest.
The Titans travel to Minnesota on Tuesday for joint practices with the Vikings on Wednesday and Thursday, ahead of the team’s second preseason game against the Vikings.